Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Suicide on Wall Street

The siege of Wall Street continues.

It’s not just Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The culture at large is learning how bad Wall Street really is.

How could Wall Street not be an evil place? It is a bastion of white privilege, capitalism and greed. Things are so bad on Wall Street that that young bankers and financiers have been committing suicide.

Andrew Ross Sorkin reports for The New York Times:

It is possible that the finance industry attracts more people with depression, just as it is possible that the pressure-cooker work environment overwhelms some people who have been high achievers their entire lives. It could be a tragic combination of multiple factors. Wall Street has always thrived, in part, on its eat-or-be-eaten culture. Would curbing its competitive nature cut into its success?

Ah yes, let’s rid the world of competition. Isn’t competition the enemy of the trendy notion of flourishing?

Think about it: would you say that the players who are playing in the Super Bowl are flourishing? Would you use the word flourishing to describe Dwight Eisenhower on D-Day or Douglas MacArthur received the surrender of Japan?

The word flourishing is a variation on the word flowering. And flowers do not engage in competition. In fact, flourishing appears to be a more feminized version of happiness.

Men thrive on competition; men are driven to succeed; men work very hard to succeed. To better compete they even engage in a sexist and retrograde division of household labor. A new book about Park Avenue housewives tells us that a goodly number of those who work on Wall Street have wives who stay at home and care for the children.

The indignities multiply.

Of course, one ought also to ask how much bankers’ morale suffers from the constant attacks on their integrity and honesty. And how much of their attitude is determined by the overwhelming number of regulations that have befallen them? An abundance of regulation assumes that bankers are fundamentally corrupt and that, left to their own devices, they would lie, cheat and steal.

Surely, the cultural bias against Wall Street affects the psychology of those who work there.

In the midst of its story Sorkin offers us a glimpse of the truth:

Studies have suggested that financial service employees are at higher risk than those in many other industries. According to the National Occupational Mortality Surveillance, individuals who work in financial services are 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the national average. The highest suicide rates in the United States are among doctors, dentists and veterinarians. [boldface mine]

Clearly, the truth will out.

Considering how evil Wall Street is and how virtuous the caring professions are, how can it happen that healthcare professions have the highest suicide rates?

Aren’t we supposed to believe that the hyper-competitive testosterone-driven environment of Wall Street is so evil that it is killing people off?

The dominant cultural narrative does not explain why the caring professions, even including those that involve healing animals, are more toxic and lethal.


Wm Sears said...

"And flowers do not engage in competition." Surely flowers are pure competition. They compete for the attention of pollinating insects.

Dennis said...

Competition exists every where in nature. When one sees one of those idyllic reef scenes there is a war happening with everything either eating or being eaten by one competitor or the other. They are fighting over space, stinging and doing all thats possible to control their own environment.
It is a source of constant amusement the number of people who fail to see the wars that are constantly in play in nature. Competition is what improves the abilities of species to exist in what is a very hostile environment. Disney has done a horrible job of depicting nature as it really happens.
By the way there is nothing that happens in NYC and Wall Street that could not happens some place else. If leftists want to get rid of it I suspect a number of states would gladly take it.
Competition is life.

Ares Olympus said...

Clearly journalists are interested in a good story, whatever the statistical facts are in context. But what can we deduce? I do recall hearing that Med students work long hours and are also chronically sleep deprived.

I've put in a few 60+ hour weeks in my younger life at the end of some projects (actual charged hours when I was self-employed), never 70. How do you work 100 hours in a week? Maybe we can assume that's not all work, but time away from home, so 14.3 hours/day, 7 days a week? Do they trade on Sundays? Maybe 16.7 hours/day including Saturday, and one day of rest?

I can't guess what the stresses are for a given job, but being chronically sleep deprived, might push some people into depression or perhaps bring out unwanted destructive thinking. But suicide always seems drastic, is every one different? Job related suicides would seem more about imminent threat of criminal charges, or maybe years of building up a career that gets cut short? And of course, a depression type crash might do it. But at 22? There's still a lot of "upside" even if you're young and broke, why give up so soon?

We might listen to Kelly McGonigal's "The upside of stress" and see "challenge" as the good kind of stress, things you believe you can handle. I don't remember if she said anything about suicide risks. Do people who thrive on challenge commit suicide more easily or less easily?
Or her 2013 TED talk:

I remember in my 20's thinking about suicide in a general sense, with no plans, but imagining it put all my problems in perspective, and it gave me permission to lower my standards and say there's a "good enough", including the option to give up, stop caring about outcomes I can't control.

I remember listening to a speech a while ago, how to see warning signs from coworkers in suicides, how to ask the right questions. It is easy to see why people don't want to do that, and how impossible it is. Men don't talk about things like that, and certainly not at work.

Oh well, maybe someone will do a serious study of our vulnerable brokers and bankers. What's really happening, and what can we do?

Should bosses force salary workers to go home after 10pm? And should they change their policies after a single suicide, or wait for a few?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I accept that flowers compete, but do they compete in the same way that two male animals compete for status and prestige. Competing for the attention of pollinating insects is not the same as competing on the battlefield. Would it be better to distinguish between active and passive competition?

Anonymous said...

People can compete with compassion for self and others or they can compete with self-other contempt. One can't tell what is happening inside each competitor based only on his or her job description, or a casual observation of his or her behavior, or based on a superficial conversation.

Anonymous said...

Finance is different because in the confused minds of former children money = life and money = symbolic parent/adult. Adults need money to live in a money-culture and children need parents to live who need to get money to live, so children think you need money to live. Plenty of other living beings get along well without feeling this dependency on money as a symbolic feature of social interaction.

In high school my female sociology teacher would describe nice cars and money as phallic symbols or things that made former little boys feel more like big boys or men. Little girls want to be like big girls and little boys want to be like big boys, so money and status are infantile expressions in every case. Denying this is simply evidence that one does not understand the development of associative memories in early childhood.

When a young person graduates school he or she has a fantasy of what it means to be an adult and work some profession, whereas the reality of serving the needs of others is much more demanding, and nothing like the process of going to school, which is much more autonomous. Suicide rates will go up for those whose upbringing did not prepare them to adjust to reality of demanding professions or among those who have contempt for adult roles underneath their idealized fantasies. There are plenty of examples of people who appear to be successful in symbolic terms yet feel depression and suicidal impulses because symbols can be associated with pleasure or pain, with self-other regard, or with self-other contempt.

Sam L. said...

"In high school my female sociology teacher would describe nice cars and money as phallic symbols or things that made former little boys feel more like big boys or men."

She would.

priss rules said...

Wall Street is evil. Not because finance or competition in and of themselves are evil but because Wall Street plays dirty.

How is that the very people who did most to undermine the world economy with all their dirty financial schemes got bailed out and then made the most money since 2008?

Wall Street: privatize profits, socialize losses.

Hardly fair competition.

Suppose I go to Las Vegas, lose all, and then demand government bail me out.

That is Wall Street behavior.

Anonymous said...

I worked for an Admiral who was ... disturbed. He'd say - do this. Next day - That's not what I said!

He set in motion a process to fire me. For Nothing!

He hounded several fine junior officers out of the Navy. He was a crazed sadistic tyrant.

I had serious tachycardia. Couldn't sleep. A year of horror. Worse than VN because continuous.

Navy HQ finally caught up with RADM James Polatty. His superior called him in.

"You have 30 days to vacate your quarters. You are not to enter any building at Great Lakes. You are demoted to one star. You are dismissed from active service as of this day."

There was a cover story about financial misappropriations. Probably true, but irrelevant.

I'm here to tell you. A boss can kill you. -- Rich Lara

Ares Olympus said...

The question of whether flowers are competitive is fun. Maybe we can ask beauty pageant contestants? Of course that's patriarchy, right?, forcing pure and innocent young things to act outside of their "tend and befriend" stress response nature.

Stuart: I accept that flowers compete, but do they compete in the same way that two male animals compete for status and prestige. Competing for the attention of pollinating insects is not the same as competing on the battlefield. Would it be better to distinguish between active and passive competition?

I'm not sure if active/passive are correct adjectives. I might say domineering and adaptive competition. Perhaps they are alpha/beta traits in hierarchy, but none are passive. Domination might be passive if you find yourself the biggest baddest silverback on the block, so no one actually dares confront you, while the others are actively trying to stay on his goodside.

On a question of suicide versus being worked to death from stress, I wonder where "accidental death by treadmill" fits? (I actually hadn't read before how David Goldberg had died.)

I just saw his wife Sheryl wrote a long impassioned public reflections on her facebook page, about the end of sheloshim, 30 days of mourning, like one paragraph on empathy, and another on resilience below, worth a read.
I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was “It is going to be okay.” That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me.

Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, “You and your children will find happiness again,” my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, “You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good” comfort me more because they know and speak the truth.

Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?” When I am asked “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.
I have learned that resilience can be learned. Adam M. Grant taught me that three things are critical to resilience and that I can work on all three.

* Personalization — realizing it is not my fault. He told me to ban the word “sorry.” To tell myself over and over, This is not my fault.
* Permanence — remembering that I won’t feel like this forever. This will get better.
* Pervasiveness — this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy.

Leo G said...

Hmm, methinks this is more the reason as to why these suicides occur so frequently on the Street -

Anonymous said...

The concept of phallic symbols is actually derived from the synthesis of biological and semantic theories. My sociology teacher did not invent the idea of phallic symbols. She merely delighted in seeing big males as little males all grown up and revealing her insight to teenagers. She did ignore the female equivalent of how former little girls use symbols to communicate their status as adult females.

High Arka said...

Blah blah, why do physicians commit suicide so much? It must be stress, right? After all, doctors are really stressed. They work a lot in order to make $90K plus with full benefits in a sleepy rural practice with regular business hours, or two or three times that by busting their butts a little. And that kind of stress is totally harsh compared to the stress that other professions face. Which is logically why doctors off themselves more.

And dentists, too. And veterinarians and pharmacists. Pharmacists, making $40-70 an hour at the drugstore, have so much more stress that they commit suicide at a much higher rate than drugstore clerks working longer hours in those very same stores for between $7-12/hr. Of course, there are lots of other factors to consider, like the fact that pharmacists are socially respected, while drugstore clerks are not; and, drugstore clerks are overseen by floor supervisors, loss prevention specialists, assistant managers, front end managers, back end managers, general managers, and store directors, while pharmacists are only occasionally overseen by fellow-pharmacist pharmacy managers, who know that it is more difficult to replace them than it is to replace a drugstore clerk.

Maybe it's guilt? Do you suppose doctors commit suicide at a much higher rate than nurses because they feel bad about making 4 times the salary of a nurse, and having supervisory authority over nurses and widespread social respect compared to almost all other professions?

While we're at it, why do lawyers, police officers, and military personnel commit suicide so often? For the ones where live-action combat is required, you can almost believe the whole "stress" thing, except that it's not infantry enlisted and patrol officers who are primarily driving these suicide numbers. This is also...

Cut for length; continued at: Doctors and Suicide.

Anonymous said...

I am the one who regularly comments about the infantile roots of social psychology.

The term "professional" is used as a symbol of adult status when it is used to refer to anyone who gets paid to do something: man kills for money, he is a professional hit man; women gets money from community of aroused males, she is a professional sex worker; etc. These professions do not have fiduciary obligations.

The white collar professions which are at higher risk for suicide appear to have greater fiduciary obligations under law and social customs. Their customers are regarded as beneficiaries who are entitled to the highest degree of faith and trust.

I think some soldiers and fiduciary professionals have a childhood predisposition to experience PTS (post-traumatic stress) due to conditions in their own childhood that induced feelings of guilt/shame. The roles in the Drama Triangle are Victim, Perpetrator, and Rescuer. Those who identify with Victim/Rescuer are more likely to kill oneself under stress, those who identify with Perpetrator are more likely to kill others or commit murder/suicide. Everyone is not equally prone to fall into an experience painful confusing memories when under social stress due to unique factors in past personal experience.

n.n said...

Financialization (e.g. debt transfer, deficit spending) sustains the welfare state over extended periods without immediate consequences to the economy and state. Its service is especially critical in high-density population centers and national redistribution schemes (e.g. asset inflation, tuition grants, health care reform), where government policies and monopoly-like behaviors warp the market and economy.